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NASCAR power rankings: Post Daytona

This is the first edition of my NASCAR Power Rankings. Following each race I will rank the Top 20 driver’s based off of their finish over the weekend, their previous ranking and the momentum they’re carrying into the next race. Below the driver’s name you can see an arrow that indicates whether they’ve climbed the rankings, fallen down the rankings, or a dashed line indicating their ranking did not change. This week’s rankings will not feature any rise or fall arrows due to the fact that these are the first rankings I’m releasing this season.

 

1. Ryan Blaney

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Rankings
Photo from AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Blaney dominated Daytona by leading a race-high 118 laps, but finished seventh. Although he didn’t bring home the checkered flag he still captures the top stop in my first power rankings. He ran strong all throughout speedweeks with the Clash and the Duels. Watch for Blaney to continue his strong start with Team Penske.

2. Joey Logano

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Logano had an up and down race at Daytona but eventually brought it home in fourth. He went a lap down due to an error on pit road, but a late caution got him back on the lead lap. Some very skillful and patient driving helped him avoid a few wrecks and navigate his way back to the front. Logano is looking to bounce back after a tough 2017 season, and he’s starting off on the right foot.

3. Denny Hamlin

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Rankings
Photo from racereviewonline.com

Like Logano, Hamlin experienced a few setbacks during the race. He overshot his own pit box on the first caution and was penalized for it. He hung in there and got his lap back under caution and found his way back to the front late. Throughout the race he led 22 laps and battled Darrell Wallace Jr. door-to-door to the finish and was scored third, literally inches short of second. Hamlin rolls into Atlanta looking strong.

4. Martin Truex Jr.

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Truex was mostly a non-factor throughout the race. Hailing as last season’s Champion and stage points king, he finished with the second-most stage points on the day (11). He was unable to pick up a stage win and finished the race in a paltry 18th place after sustaining crash damage. Truex Jr. is still atop the sport as a one of the best, look for him to bounce back this week at Atlanta.

5. Kyle Larson

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Larson got caught up in a big wreck, but wasn’t knocked out of the race. The damage he sustained in the wreck made his car uncompetitive and resulted in him riding around the back for most of the day. He finished 19th, three laps down. Larson will undoubtedly come back strong this week at Atlanta where he finished second at this race last season. He’s one of the most talented driver’s in the sport right now and he probably hasn’t even hit his prime yet.

6. Kyle Busch

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Rankings
Photo by LAT Photographic

The younger of the two Busch brother’s had a miserable day at Daytona. For the second year in a row a blown tired ruined his day early. Last season a blown tire resulted in a huge wreck that took him out of the race. This year it only damaged his car enough to put him several laps down and ride around the back of the pack for 200 laps. He was able to salvage a 25th place finish since so many others wrecked in front of him. “Rowdy” is surely looking forward to Atlanta, where he has one win and two top-5s in his last four appearances there.

7. Brad Keselowski

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Keselowski finished in a disappointing 32nd place after starting just one spot ahead of that, 31st. He made his way to the front and was looking strong until he was involved in the big wreck on lap 101. The wreck also ended the day for Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick and several others. Keselowski is one of the premier restrictor plate racers so it was unfortunate not being able to watch him battle for the win in the dying laps. He’ll be a favorite this week at Atlanta as he won the race there last season.

8. Chase Elliott

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Rankings
Photo from LAT Photographic

Elliott has looked strong at every Daytona race he’s been in but he just can’t seem to finish. While running third with a very strong car he got turned around and slammed into the outside wall taking several cars out with him. He continues to look strong almost every week, he’s inching closer and closer to his first of many wins. Atlanta could be the one, he has a series-best 6.5 average finish over the last two races at the track.

9. Austin Dillon

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Rankings
Photo from AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Dillon clinched the biggest win of his career so far and it truly was historic. He put the 3 car in victory lane for the first time since Dale Earnhardt Sr. did it back in 1998. He only needed to lead one lap to get the victory, he wrecked Aric Almirola on the final lap to get the win. Him and his team made sure they wouldn’t forget the victory by getting a “Daytona 500 Champs” tattoo on their backsides. If Dillon struggles this week at Atlanta, we can blame it on sitting on his sore backside for several hours straight.

10. Kevin Harvick

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Harvick was involved in the big Chase Elliott crash and the damage he sustained forced him out of the race a few laps later. He’s known as being “the closer” because he comes on strong late in races to compete for wins. This week at Atlanta he’ll look to close, which he couldn’t do last year, after he led 292 laps but a speeding penalty on pit road cost him the victory.

11. Paul Menard

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Menard had a strong showing at Daytona and was able to finish it off with a strong finish, sixth place. In his first season in the 21 car with Wood Brothers Racing he’s looking to get his second career win and reach the postseason. He’s off to a strong start this season and we’ll have to see if he can grab Wood Brothers Racing their 100th win sometime this season.

12. Alex Bowman

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Rankings
Photo from Brian Lawdermilk / Getty Images

The young-gun replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a spectacular run at Daytona… until the very end. He started on the pole and led 13 laps throughout the race and was in contention for a top-5 and possibly a win. Unfortunately he got caught up in a late crash and limped his damaged race car to a 17th place finish. All things considered, it was a very strong showing from Bowman and he’ll look to build on it this week and Atlanta.

13. Aric Almirola

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Heartbreak. The one word that sums up the race for Aric Almirola. He avoided wrecks all race long and put himself in first place on the final lap. A chance to lock himself into the playoffs in the first race of the season quickly disappeared as Austin Dillon turned him hard into the wall, resulting in an 11th place finish. In his first race driving the number 10 car for Stewart Haas Racing, he looked composed all race long and competitive during crunch time. Although it was a heartbreak finish, the day up to that point should give the team something positive to build off of moving forward.

14. Kurt Busch

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Rankings
Photo from NASCAR.com

The older of the Busch brothers had a better race until the very end. Kurt Busch, last year’s Daytona 500 winner, had his hopes of repeating crushed when he spun off the nose of Ryan Blaney’s car with two laps to go. He led 16 laps and hung around the top-10 for most of the day. The crash resulted in a 26th place finish, one spot behind his younger brother Kyle. This week he’ll look to get back to his winning ways for the first time in over a year when NASCAR hits Atlanta. He’s a three-time winner at the track and started on the pole back in 2016.

15. Darrell Wallace Jr.

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Rankings
Darrell Wallace (43) edging out Denny Hamlin (11) for second at the finish. Photo from youtube.com

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. made history with his runner-up finish in the Great American Race. He edged Denny Hamlin by inches at the line for second place as the two slammed door-to-door into one another. His finish of second was the best by an African American driver at Daytona, and he’s won over many hearts of NASCAR fans with his story and finish. He fought back tears during post-race questions while receiving hugs from his mother and sister. The rookie heads into Atlanta with momentum and tons of fans behind him.

16. Erik Jones

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For the second straight year Jones wrecked out of the Daytona 500, and again it wasn’t his fault. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made an incredible save in front of him but cut off Jones and forced him to spin out and collect several others including Jimmie Johnson. Jones led 11 laps and looked to have a fast car, but was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many believe he’ll have a breakout season in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing in the 20 machine. He’ll look to bounce back with a strong finish at Atlanta where he finished 14th last season.

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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Stenhouse Jr. led 11 laps but eventually was in the middle of a large wreck with a few laps left, he finished 29th. At the end of the first stage he nearly spun in front of the field but made a highlight reel save. His save resulted in a massive pileup behind him that took out several heavy hitters. Stenhouse Jr. and Roush Fenway Racing are trying to prove that they aren’t just a restrictor plate racing team this season, we’ll see how they fare at Atlanta this week. The Roush Fenway duo of Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne finished 12th and 13th last season at Atlanta.

18. Jimmie Johnson

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Rankings
Johnson (48) wrecking with Suarez (19) and William Byron (24). Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

Johnson was the victim of one of the big one’s that occurred late in stage one at Daytona. He finished in a tough 38th position, accumulating only one point from the season-opening race. He ended last season in a slump and for now it continued into this season. The 7-time champ has a good chance to break out of the slump this week at Atlanta where he’s won two of the last three races there, five total in his career.

19. Clint Bowyer

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Bowyer brought the number 14 car home in a respectable 15th position, ahead of many of NASCAR’s big names. He didn’t lead any laps, but he was arguably one of the most undamaged cars on the track. He experienced some type of issue later in the race that required his team to look under the hood, causing him to go a lap down. Coming off his best season in recent memory, Bowyer is looking to build off that and return to the playoffs this season for Stewart Haas Racing.

20. Jamie McMurray

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McMurray, or Jamie “Mac”, experienced a similar race to Bowyer. He finished in 16th, ahead of many big names like the Busch brothers, Keselowski, Harvick, Johnson and others. Jamie Mac is coming off a better season in 2017 where he benefitted from the growth of his Chip Ganassi teammate, Kyle Larson. He’s heading to Atlanta where he’s coming off a 10th place finish there last year. But prior to that 10th place finish you have to look back 11 races to find his last top-10 finish at the track.

 

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